Mike’s Been Watching…
GHOSTBUSTERS II [Main Picture]
DIR: Ivan Reitman
It may not be as funny as the first installment but Ghostbusters II has an unfairly bad reputation. The jokes don’t come as thick and fast but the story is solid. Ramis and Aykroyd clearly care about these characters and take them to interesting places when the film begins; it seems fitting that in the wake of saving the city from supernatural meltdown these nerdy schlubs should be running an occult bookstore, entertaining kids parties and hosting fraudulent psychic TV shows (expertly parodied with Murray’s hangdog sarcasm) respectively. The screenplay is wise not to introduce any extra side characters, except for the hilarious Peter MacNicol as the creepy Dr. Janosz Poha. An underrated actor who also lent vocals to the Spectacular Spider-Man TV series, he’s by far the funniest aspect of the entire film. The reason there are less obvious gags this time around is because Ramis and Aykroyd take time to explore the characters and relationships, drawing more subtle humour from their interactions and quirks. The first film is incredibly focused on Venkman, but here every Ghostbuster is given equal screen-time. I love the scene where they watch a toaster dance; it feels strangely genuine. As before the effects are also of an outstanding standard and get unfairly snubbed in reviews. The ghost/monster design is fantastic, and each spook has a distinct personality. It’s like a house of horror, but the FX (which has really endured) never feels gimmicky, and makes the action exciting. Sure it’s overlong and the ending is silly even for Ghostbusters. But I think it’s about time we stopped comparing and just enjoyed. Ghostbusters II is officially up for re-evaluation.
DIR: Gregory Hoblit
Unwatchable would be a more fitting title. I’ve seen some bland, predictable thrillers in my time but this insipid snoozefest, which even the least cineliterate audience members will correctly map out from the off, really takes some beating. It wants to be Se7en (1995) for the YouTube generation but it’s just not smart enough, and its central concept takes a backseat to some stale police procedural mechanics (“blah, blah, jurisdiction, technical jargon, cliché, blah, blah”) and some really false-ringing relationships. The script is abominable and seems to have gone through several iterations, ending up with four credited writers. Serial hack Hoblit makes a living out of these dumb routine thrillers though. Anyone see Fracture (2007)? Aside from featuring Anthony Hopkins in full pantomime dame mode that was another film which took a potentially interesting concept and just ran to the most illogical point with it, checking off clichés as it became exponentially more stupid. That’s exactly how this one goes too, with some unpleasantly indulgent torture along the way, slavishly catering to the Saw (2004) crowd for maximum profit. The performances are stiff, the aesthetic dull and worst of all the film is just boring as it races through overfamiliar scenarios and interactions. You’ll be shouting at the screen through all the plot holes and impossibilities but your breath would be better saved for a good movie. The only thing untraceable about this reactionary mess is talent.
Sam’s Been Watching…
DIR: Jan Kounnen
If I had seen Dobermann when I was fifteen I would likely have found it’s aggressively cartoony action scenes, it’s lavatorial sense of humour and its heightened performances cool, all the while patting myself on the back for liking a French movie. I’m not fifteen anymore, and frankly I found that Dobermann vacillated between being dull (during the long lulls between heist scenes and gunfights) and obnoxious (during the heist scenes and gunfights).
There is the odd bit of inspiration; the pre-credits sequence sets the tone well, while staying just the right side of full bore madness, and Tcheky Karyo’s OTT performance as the bent cop pursuing Vincent Cassell, Monica Bellucci and the criminal gang is at times entertaining in it’s cartoonish villainy. Overall, Dobermann is just too much. If it calmed down a bit during the action sequences it would be more intelligible and more fun, but as it is I just found it a bit of a headache.
DIR: Yip Wai-shun / Sammo Hung
Wing Chun has long been the martial art that I’m most interested in. Yes wushu is more intricate, more beautiful, and Hung Gar is more direct and powerful, but the sharp close quarters motions of Wing Chun, and the power they can project in such a small space make it, for me, the most compelling of Chinese martial arts.
Ip Man is loosely based on the life story of a legendary Wing Chun master who lived from 1893 to 1972 and set during the Japanese occupation of China (1937-45). It departs almost totally from history, the only real fact here being that Ip Man was real and he did refuse to teach the Japanese army martial arts, a decision which forced him to flee his home town of Fo shan (the spiritual home of Wing Chun). But I suspect few people will care much about historical accuracy once they see the film.
Ip Man is as good a martial arts film as I’ve seen for some years, and one big reason for that is the participation of action director Sammo Hung, who previously directed Wing Chun classics Warriors Two and The Prodigal Son. Sammo’s action is faithful to the real forms of Wing Chun, and he’s a master of making it look exciting. The choreography is varied and graceful, but also high impact. The fight scenes always advance both the story and the character of Ip Man; early on he’s the playful master teaching a cocky newcomer a lesson by beating him with a feather duster, later he’s the Chinese resistance personified as he lays a serious beating on ten karate masters.
Director Yip Wai-shun works with a lot of the same people film after film, and here his continuing realtionship with stars Donnie Yen and Simon Yam pays dividends, as he is able to push them, Yen in particular, to terrific performances. Ip Man is an intelligent, well made and exciting film, and it’s also plenty of fun for martial arts fans.
DIR: Wes Craven
For 13 minutes Scream is Wes Craven’s best film. No, better, for 13 minutes Scream is a flat out horror masterpiece. The opening pre-credits sequence of the film is an extended exercise in terror, made all the more chilling by the playfulness with which the ghost masked killer menacing Drew Barrymore (giving a great performance) goes about his business. It’s a nerve wracking, violent and original opening sequence, and the film never comes close to topping it.
The rest of the film is by no means bad (even if you do have to watch it with the awareness that, in 1996, the self referential horror film was not a hackneyed concept in and of itself), it’s just that it doesn’t come up to that high watermark set by the opening. There are plenty of reasons for that, some of it is down to Kevin Williamson’s screenplay, which is not so clever as it thinks it is, and whose characters are largely one dimensional, and another is the very mixed set of performances. The girls come off best; Neve Campbell makes for a bland final girl, but Courtney Cox and Rose McGowan are spunkier and more fun. The guys, on the other hand, Skeet Ulrich is flat, and Jamie Kennedy and Matthew Lillard (especially Lillard) really irritated me this time around.
I wanted to like Scream more, because I do have a nostalgic attachment to it, but, 13 minutes of greatness aside, it now just feels like another slightly ropey slasher.
THE SILENT HOUSE
DIR: Gustavo Hernández
This Uruguayan horror film is what I like to call a ‘noises off’ movie, one in which the majority of the scares (‘scares’) come from off screen creaks and bumps at key unexpected (‘unexpected’) moments. If you’ve never seen one before, then this example might work for you, but otherwise, I’d suggest you give it a miss.
The selling point here is that the film appears to have been shot in a single take, and take place in real time. I’m not sure about either; the timeline feels compressed, more like a whole night than the 86 minutes the film runs, and though cuts are well hidden it is plainly obvious that there is no way the film could have been shot in a single take. There are two major problems here. Firstly, much of the film is hideously underlit, for most of the running time it is so dark that it’s just annoying to watch as you squint at the screen hoping to make something out. Second; it’s predictable in the extreme, twenty minutes in I was bored, and decided to try to write the film faster than I could watch it. I missed only one detail of the last hour. This predictability also extends to the scares, which I counted in on many occasions.
The Silent House is dull, overlong and hard to watch for all the wrong reasons. Skip it.